(This post is an edited Facebook post. Follow EQR on FB blah blah etc.)
If you haven’t gathered from the About Me page or some of my posts, I’m a Black American, living abroad. This blog is about books, not me, so I don’t talk about my own experiences often. My day job and life also consist of quite a lot of talk about race and social justice, but I try to avoid internet activism and grandiosity for the most part.
This is because I realize the internet is largely overwhelmed with bad news, fear, pain, anger, and uncertainty these days. As a result, I’ve made it a point to keep things light and literary. Books and reading have always been a haven for me, and a website about books and the love we all have for reading should be no different, I think. The written word at its best is a gateway to engage with the painful spaces in the world and wring from them the joy of understanding and the will to improve. I strongly believe that, and so, I’ve largely avoided reactive anger porn and always try to tease out a positive action to take or a voice of truth when I do post something here about the ways in which the world sucks. That will continue, going forward.
But today, I’m sad. The past few weeks have been brutal for the Black American community. Nationwide lockdowns and precautions meant to stem the spread of a global pandemic have had no nullifying effect on continued police and community brutality, systemic racism and the outright murders of people who look like myself, my brothers, my family.
Fellow readers, I’m sad. So sad. And I’m tired–exhausted, even. Not because of my own Blackness (don’t get it twisted), but by the world’s response to it, in myself and in others.
Several well-meaning folks who are not Black have reached out and asked what they can do. Whatever I tell you, it’s not enough. This is not a momentary issue. This is a lifelong issue. This is an issue of history, an issue that defines our country and shapes our culture. This is something we have been shouting about forever. You are upset today, but we’ve been upset for years and it’s *exhausting*. If you want to help, you take up this baton and run with it for a while. Let me, let us, REST.
When I heard the news of George Floyd, the 46-year-old Black security guard in Minneapolis who was restrained with cruel, unnecessary brute force by a police officer despite his pleas and those of onlookers, and died of his injuries the same day, I was reminded of the writer Henry Dumas. You’ve probably never heard of him, although he was a graduate of Rutgers, an early voice in the Black Arts Movement, and a prolific short story writer and poet who influenced no less a luminary than Toni Morrison, who called his work “some of the most beautiful, moving and profound poetry and fiction that I have ever in my life read.”
You’ve never heard of him because in 1968, at the age of thirty-three, Dumas was shot and killed by a New York City transit cop in a subway station. No-one was charged in his death. Had it not been for Morrison’s discovery of his only published collection in a university library, his voice would have entirely disappeared from the world.
How many of our voices have disappeared from the world, due to injustice and cruelty?
Did I say the past few weeks have been brutal for the Black American community? Because I meant to say the past 400 years.
If you want to find out more about Dumas, this NPR article is excellent.